Michael Butts | Martinsburg, WV USA | 05/02/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"FIRST DEGREE is a twisty and entertaining little thriller full of misguided clues and an eccentric cast of characters. Karen Black in one of her best recent performances provides the narrative foundation for a tale of kidnapping, murder and deception. She's attending a barbecue at the house of friends of her and her late husband. Said husband was kidnapped and murdered a few months earlier and no one was ever apprehended for the crime. James Wilder and Kimberley Kates are the hosts; he's a yuppie with extravagant tastes and she's a real estate agent with sexual favors part of her deals. The other guests are C. Thomas Howell and Erika Eleniak as friends of the hosts and an over the top but effective Jack Scalia as the musclebound new employee who has no problem taking charge of situations that occur. Richard Hillman portrays a nerdish tow truck driver and James Russo a belligerent neighbor, and their scenes add more mischievous underpinnings to the main plot. It's not long before we realize Scalia is more than he first appears and Wilder and Kates have more on their conscious than burned steaks. Black's playful role in the proceedings cements this unusual movie. It's a low budget movie, but it's clever playfulness along with its dark mood make it an original and enjoyable experience."